A tough draw saw the remaining English teams having to travel to Italy in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Arsenal face 7 time winners A.C Milan while Chelsea are pitted against Napoli, the team that saw off Manchester City in the Group stage. Neither side has an easy tie and though it is said there is no easy game in the Champions League I’m sure they would have rather face APOEL FC or FC Basel.
A.C Milan may not be the all conquering team of old and in the last few seasons may not be as strong as 5 years ago but this season has seen resurgence. They boast a strong attack with the likes of Ibrahimovic, Pato, Robinho and the in-form Kevin-Prince Boateng. Milan are unbeaten in 11 games having scored 30 goals and have conceded only 8 in that time. Whereas Arsenal are unbeaten in 8 having scored 21 and conceded 7. By those stats both are in good form with Milan looking the slightly more dangerous, but this will not be the first time Arsenal will be going to the San Siro as the underdogs. In the 2007/08 season Arsenal were up against a Milan side that had won the Champions League the previous season, beating Liverpool 2-1. That Milan team could boast the likes of club Defender of the Year, Paolo Maldini; club Midfielder of the Year, Clarence Seedorf; and club Forward & Footballer of the year, Kaká along with the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Filippo Inzaghi.
The 1st leg was at the Emirates Stadium and with Milan playing a more defensive side but Arsenal were unlucky not to score having a goal disallowed, Eboue just missing and Adebayor hitting the woodwork. The game ended 0-0 so it was all or nothing in the 2nd leg in the San Siro meaning Arsenal needed to score to have a chance of going through. The 2nd leg saw Milan play more adventurous which gave Arsenal the opportunity to counter attack. Milan were unlucky though not to take the lead through Maldini who had a shot cleared off the line. Arsenal left it late with Fabregas carrying the ball forward before he unleashed a great long range effort to put Arsenal in the lead in the 84th minute. The final nail in the coffin for Milan came when Adebayor scored on the 92nd minute from a cross by the substitute Walcott.
This time round it will be Arsenal that have the 2nd leg at home, giving them an advantage because if they can score in the 1st leg that would give them a great chance to go through even if they lose 2-1 in Milan. The first leg will take place on the 15th of February so some players may not be available to pick due to the African Cup of Nations so for Arsenal Gervinho may be unavailable and for Milan Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Chelsea also will have the advantage of having the 2nd leg at home, but also may be without some key player such as Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou because of the African Cup of Nations, but Napoli will be unaffected having no African players at the club. Chelsea will be in the same position as Arsenal, if they can get a goal away at Napoli they stand a good chance of going through with the 2nd leg being at Stamford Bridge, but that is going to be harder said than done.
With Napoli’s 3-4-3 formation they are able to both attack and defend in numbers. The two central midfielders are there to win the ball and move it on. They will either move it out wide to Maggio, Dossena or Zúñiga or forward to the advanced attackers in Hamšík or Lavezzi. Hamšík is the more creative out of the two, but can get himself on the score sheet. Lavezzi will be looking to utilize his pace and deliver crosses for Cavani who is a great box striker. Cavani has been prolific for Napoli scoring 41 goals in 61 games in all competitions.
The wide midfielders are actually Wing-backs who will go forward with the attack, providing crosses for Cavani to attack, but also drop deep to help the defence when they are in trouble. Walter Mazzarri’s formation has brought the best out of Maggio, Dossena and Zúñiga who have played their careers as fullbacks, so defensively they are very strong, but have the freedom to go forward. Their pace, dribbling ability and crossing ability can be employed as Napoli can go from defending to attacking in a blink of an eye. Chelsea’s 4-3-3 formation does mean that Napoli’s wide players may be pinned back it, but it does also mean that they could be left a little toothless in their attack and if Andre Villas-Boas plays with a high line then Napoli will rip them apart much like Arsenal did when they beat then 5-1.
Terry will be up against Cavani, while Cole and Bosingwa will have to deal with Hamšík and Lavezzi while also looking out for the wide midfielders on the attack. Chelsea will be asking their own wingers to help out the defence, so it will be interesting to see who he picks to play. If Chelsea don’t get the tactics right it could be a very hard tie for them to progress from and could see them go out at the first hurdle.
The remaining draw & predictions
Bayer Leverkusen v Barcelona: Verdict Barcelona
CSKA Moscow v Real Madrid: Verdict CSKA Moscow
FC Basel v Bayern Munich: Verdict Bayern Munich
Marseille v Inter Milan: Verdict Marseille
Lyon v APOEL FC: Verdict Lyon
Zenit St. Petersburg v Benfica: Verdict Zenit St. Petersburg